COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, 29 December 2004 - The devastating tsunamis that struck south Asia on December 26 have left over 21,700 dead and thousands of children, women and men missing in Sri Lanka, one of nine countries that were affected by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and its aftereffects.
More than 700,000 people have been displaced from their homes. These survivors face an array of dangers -- disease, lack of clean water and sanitation facilities.
“We are very concerned in all these areas about the welfare of people who have survived, whether they are getting clean water. We are worried about the risk of disease, children in these circumstances are especially vulnerable to disease,” said Regional Communication Officer Martin Dawes.
Landmines are also another deadly risk. UNICEF’s Ted Chaiban in Sri Lanka said the mines are posing a risk to Sri Lankans and an impediment to relief efforts. “Mines were floated by the floods and washed out of known mine fields, so now we don’t know where they are and the warning signs on mined areas have been swept away or destroyed,” he said, speaking from the UNICEF office in Colombo.
“The greatest danger to civilians will come when they begin to return to their homes, not knowing where the mines are,” Chaiban added.
UNICEF has already responded to a government request for shelter supplies, providing more than 30,000 blankets and sleeping mats as well as t-shirts and other articles of clothing from local emergency stocks. A relief flight from Copenhagen will arrive in Colombo on Wednesday carrying 45 tonnes of supplies.
Across Sri Lanka, UNICEF offices have been mobilized and UNICEF teams are in the field evacuating people and providing emergency supplies such as blankets, bedsheets, drinking water, and medicine.
The relief flight is carrying oral rehydration salts for sick children, medical supplies sufficient to serve 150,000 people for three months, shelter equipment such as tents and blankets, and other urgent relief items.
UNICEF Sri Lanka expects to issue an appeal for some $6 million to help meet urgent needs for Sri Lanka’s children. Half of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts were directly affected by the tsunamis.
Officials from the Sri Lankan government told UNICEF they had “never seen a situation like this before.” Currently, the country is under a national state of emergency.
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